Lemmings are small rodents that live in the Arctic. Sadly, we have given them a bad, inaccurate rap. We assume they breed to outrageously large numbers and then they stampede to a cliff edge and throw themselves off to their deaths. This misconception haunts them to this day. But, it’s also a great analogy. That is, people who rely upon the guidance of others may rush madly forward, maybe toward the proverbial cliff.

Consider today’s life goals advertised as being consumerism and wealth generation. If these are our sole life goals, then we could readily relate our actions to those of the misconceived lemmings. And it seems for many, this is true. We’ve seen an expanding population bent on consumerism that has fuelled GDP growth for millennia. There’s little expectation in the growth stopping as we expect a continual rise in global population and energy consumption for many decades. There are indicators of abatement. But, how do we encourage a life that is more than satisfying these economic metrics?

Last year (2021), humans consumed 696 exajoules of primary energy. The greatest annual amount ever. It’s safe to say that our species’ consumption of energy has increased monotonically every year over the last 10,000. Initially, we consumed biofuels, e.g. wood and charcoal. Now we utilise non-renewable fossil fuels; oil, natural gas and coal. These amount to over 70% of all primary energy sources. Eventually, we will consume all remaining sources. And then what? Is our consumerism heading us for a cliff?